"Wow, that's great," I said, looking down at B&W's new $599 Zeppelin iPod player, the football-shaped Zeppelin, as it played a track from Tal Wilkenfeld's new Transformation album off of my Apple iPhone. Tal Wilkenfeld, a 21 year-old, very pretty, Australian girl, was all the buzz after she played bass with Jeff Beck at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival Concert in Chicago last summer.
BAT introduced the two-chassis, $18,500 REX preamplifier at CES. The 18-tube preamplifier incorporates vacuum-tube rectifiers, C-multipliers, oil capacitors, and shunt regulators to filter the power supply's DC voltages. The control module incorporates a 140-step volume control that uses a 16-bit digital control with Vishay bulk-metal–foil resistors as pass-through devices. Each input to the preamplifier can be adjusted individually.
Loudspeaker cabinet design has been strongly influenced by home theater. Large floorstanding cabinets, required for reproduction of bass frequencies, are being replaced by tall, graceful towers with small footprints. While these slim speakers fit more easily into home décor and living spaces, to fill out their bass response they depend on being used with the subwoofers that are standard in multichannel systems.
Boulder Amplifiers, Inc., introduced its new Model 3060 Stereo balanced, class-A amplifier ($114,000), a huge, 900Wpc, solid-state amplifier that weighs 450 lbs! Sitting nearby was the company's flagship monoblock, the silver 3060 ($205,000/pair), a class-A 1500W power amplifier shown in my photograph. A large cylindrical tube, containing 4 large mineral-potted toroidal power transformers, runs down the inside middle of the chassis. This is said to dampen any transformer-induced vibration. The mono amplifier uses 120 high-temperature rated bipolar transistors and 48, 160V, high-temperature rated, 4700µuF electrolytic capacitors for energy storage. Large circuit boards slide into frames at the top of the chassis, each board containing hundreds of discrete parts. With a pair of these amplifiers weighing 440 lbs, Boulder does not want this amplifier to require service, and its build quality signifies that.
Although many high-end audio products are described as revolutionary and as breakthroughs in design when new, most audiophile components now on the market have not changed our way of relating to such products in the way the iPad has done. Once in a while, a new audio product does move in that direction by enabling the audiophile to do install a product and optimize its performance in a different way.
Talking to fellow audiophiles, I sometimes hear generalizations about power-amplifier design: "High-power amplifiers don't sound as good as low-power amplifiers." "Tube amps are more musical than solid-state amps." "Class-A circuit designs always sound better than class-AB." "Bridged amplifiers don't image precisely, throw deep soundstages, or have the transparency of non-bridged output stages." Etc.
It was a hot, humid, New York City evening in early August, and I was thankful to be sitting in the air-conditioned dark of Avery Fisher Hall, up in the Second Tier, for a Mostly Mozart concert. Listening to cello soloist Alisa Weilerstein in Osvaldo Golijov's hypnotic Azul, I was suddenly jolted by an explosive mix of primitive cello sonorities, accordion, and staccato riffs on ethnic percussion instruments. My thoughts turned to the importance in music of both power and delicacy, and of how Bryston Ltd.'s 28B-SST, a 1000W monoblock power amplifier, was designed to address both.
Canadian electronics manufacturer Bryston Limited has been producing consumer and professional amplifiers since 1974 [see Robert Deutsch's interview elsewhere in this issue—Ed.]. Bryston amps are engineered to be physically and electrically rugged, to meet the stringent demands of professionals, many of whom leave their studio amplifiers turned on for years. While chassis had to be light instead of the audiophile massiveness found in some high-end consumer amplifiers, studio engineers and concert pros continued to favor Bryston amps, which easily passed the "steel toe" test. The 4B, for example, became a standard amplifier for recording engineers and touring musicians.
On January 1, 1990, Canadian electronics manufacturer Bryston instituted a remarkable warranty program that covered each of their products for a full 20 years. This warranty includes all audio products ever manufactured and sold under the Bryston name. Besides covering parts and labor costs, the company will also pay shipping costs one way. This is all the more significant for their 4B NRB amplifier, which has been in production since 1976. The amp's $2k price, while not cheap, is at the lower end of what well-heeled audiophiles typically pay for amplifiers.
Bright April Sunday sunshine beams through the bay window of my listening room. The light catches four loudspeakers on stands, two stacks of electronic equipment, a small video monitor, black cables strung behind furniture, and a pile of freshly opened DVDs. I sit in the center in a large, overstuffed chair covered in blue velvet, listening to an array of six loudspeakers and a TV monitor playing The Haunting's DTS soundtrack. The floor rumbles as the sounds of creaking timbers come up from below.